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I Guarded the Children

Kids. Everyone has an opinion on them. The relationship between the adult world and that of the children has been one of… toleration… at times, outright love or hatred at others.

Admit it. They have some sort of special power, a kind of secret weapon that can be unleashed when one least expects it. Maybe they will cry. Maybe they will laugh. Maybe they will just look up at you with their eyes and arms wide open and say, "Hold me."

Or maybe, just maybe, some of them hide a darker power behind those innocent smiles.

Just ask me. I found out first-hand.

I found him lying beside some sort of vault in an old, thought-to-be abandoned warehouse. Accepting a dare from some friends, I had gone inside the warehouse and was busily trying to make my way to the back of it. There, I was supposed to shine my flashlight out one of the windows so that my friends could know that I had gone all the way through.

I'm 15, and what better things are there to do at 2 am? Sleep? Not me.

The groaning was what drew me in his direction in the first place. Yeah, I know; it is just textbook that you don't go in the direction of a strange noise in an old abandoned building. Was one of my friends up to something? I had to find out.

When I finally saw him, my gut reaction was to scream in surprise, but for some reason I couldn't. After all, he looked to be an elderly man that had run into a little bit of trouble. No threat to me, right? I kept my distance at first, but the insane side of my intelligence, or lack thereof, prevailed, and I paced myself toward the man.

"B-boy…." he had weakly uttered. "Y-y-you've got to… got to… get out of here. You've got to… get… as far away from this place… as you can."

Don't get me wrong; the offer was something that I was soon intending to take the old man up on. But he seemed in no position to do anything to me, and he looked to be in bad shape. Hey, I'm only 15; remember? I'm still a little naive.

I knelt down beside him. He continued to moan that I had to leave and that everyone had to get out of town. Grabbing a few loose rags that I saw lying around, I wrapped them around his banged-up head.

"I think that it's you that had better just lay back and get some rest. Some friends of mine are outside; I'll send them for help."

"N-n-no. No time. Tell… tell them to run and to warn everyone else."

"Warn everyone? Of what?"

"Of them."

It wasn't the word "them" that I concentrated on, but the way in which he had said it, and the look on his face when he uttered that word. I couldn't leave him until I found out more. I had to know what was going on.

I yelled as loud as I could for one of my friends outside to go and get help. Laughs were at first my only reply, but I guess that the sincerity in my voice eventually won out. They all left.

"All right, this whole routine that you've got going on right now has to stop. Tell me what's going on. Tell me what "them" means.

I'm still sorry I asked.

After the man had settled down a bit from his initial state of shock, he began to tell me the story of "them." A long time ago, before my family had moved to town, the warehouse had been a Goodyear factory. A downturn in the economy brought the place to a close, but the jobless man remained in town. Some of his strength seemed to return as he told his story, and he managed to sit up as he continued.

"I had… worked here all of my life. As you get older, though, jobs… g-get more scarce. About two… months ago, an old buddy of mine approached me about a job. He said that a-a… man had talked to him about the need for a guard to watch over what he had "temporarily" stored in-in… the vault behind me."

"I didn't ask any questions. G-guess that I was just happy to find some… work. And being back in here was, I thought, an added bonus. Reminded me of when… I was younger, I-I guess. The man n-never… came back, but every night at midnight a package would be dropped off that I was… supposed to put… through… through…."

The old man fell asleep, and I had no choice but to pick him up and carry him out on my back. When I got outside, my friends or the help that they were supposed to find were nowhere to be seen. I took him down to a nearby creek and washed his face with some of the water. He awoke soon after that, and, once he had scanned the area around him, took a few sips of the cool water, not caring about the source.

I gave him a few moments, and then asked him to continue his story. He spoke a lot better now, and his strength seemed to be constantly growing. However, I noticed that he still nervously watched the area around us.

"Like I was saying before, I just put the package through a big slot once a day. I never asked any questions, not a one for the whole two months. Why? I was paid not to. If I kept my mouth shut and just guarded that vault like I was supposed to, I got paid quite… well. Everything changed earlier tonight."

"I had heard strange noises coming from inside the vault before, but like I said, I had never asked any questions. The noises, though, started to wear on me. I thought that they sounded like children's voices, but there was no way! I knew that no child could survive in there, even though there did seem to be some air holes on the top of the vault, but they were small, and I couldn't see much through them. And I closed the slot when I finished putting the package through."

"Finally, tonight, the noises became too much. After I dropped the package through as usual, I… I took out my keys and opened the vault door. I opened it slowly at first, but at the sound of another noise I quickly flung it fully open. And that's when I saw…

"… the children."

Maybe a few knocks on the head had made the guy crazy. Children? In a vault? But then he went on to describe them, one in particular.

"I looked in further and there were children… everywhere in there. Then I noticed that the vault seemed to have some sort of padding that for the most part muffled the sound inside. When I looked toward the right corner, I saw a little boy rocking back and forth, cradling a teddy bear."

"I thought that I had finally lost it, and that it was time to ship me to the retirement home. But then the boy started crying, and it sounded so real! I couldn't be imagining it; I knew that for a fact."

"I walked over to him and he stopped crying long enough to look at me. Then he spoke."

"'Are you the awful man that's kept us locked in here? Are you the man that tried to hurt us?' The boy looked up at me again, as tears began to fill his eyes once more."

"'Won't you let us go?' he said to me. 'Why won't you let us go and play outside? I don't like it in here.'"

"Right after he said that, the rest of the kids joined in with him and in unison they said, 'Let us go!! Let us go!!'" At this point, the old man clasped his hands over his ears as he repeatedly yelled the words, "Let us go!!"

That was my cue. I backed up a little, making sure that I had room enough to run free. Then, he suddenly stopped, ran up to me, and grabbed my shirt collar.

"Don't you understand? For two whole months, I guarded the children! I kept them locked up in that vault!"

He let me go, and backed up. His arms flung open, almost like he was getting ready to pick up something. Or someone.

"I couldn't let them think that. Don't you see? I couldn't let them think that I had been the one to hurt them!! So, I picked the child up and held him as close to me as I could. I hugged him so tight that he dropped his teddy bear. And that's when it happened… they all surrounded me and jumped on me. The next thing I know, I'm on the floor of the warehouse in front of the open vault door."

This was all too much for me now. "Wait a minute! Just hold it! First, you try to tell me that there was a whole group of kids locked up in a vault that you guarded for two months, and now you're trying to tell me that they knocked you out? You're insane! I'm getting out of here!!"

But before I knew it, the man had a hold of my shirt collar again. "No, I'm telling you the truth! You don't understand! They're somewhere out there right now! And they'll be back! You've got to get everyone out of that town! Do you hear me? Get them as far away as you can!!"

I broke his grip on my shirt and backed away slowly, trying to make sure that I didn't trip on anything and give the advantage to him. "You're crazy! I knew that I should have run back out of the warehouse when I heard you moaning!! You're certifiable!!"

Turning around to make my getaway, I was stopped…

… by an eight-year-old boy holding a teddy bear.

"You're not very nice!" the boy said. "I don't like mean people!" He was soon joined by a group of about ten children, and I found myself being surrounded and backed up to the creek. By kids!!

"No way you're stopping me, kid." I ran straight toward him. But he almost seemed to fly as he knocked me backwards. Right after he had put me on the ground, he walked back over and picked up his teddy bear.

About this time, one of the girls approached me. When I got back on my feet, she stuck out her arms and asked me to give her a piggyback ride. "I haven't had one in sooo long!!" she said. The rest of the kids began to close in on me, and they all did something in unison that still haunts me.

They gritted their teeth at me. All of their teeth. I was surrounded by vampires. Child vampires.

Needless to say, I wasn't about to go quietly to a bunch of kids, vampires or not. I grabbed the girl and threw her as far as I could. Using the momentary distraction, I made a mad dash past the children and toward the road to town. I almost got away.

As I began to get my stride up, I felt someone grab the back of my hair and pull me to the ground. None of these kids was tall enough to do that. Nobody else but me here was tall enough to do that except for….

The old man picked me up off of the ground, and pulled me close to himself. The look in his eyes seemed to be a mixture of terror and anger. "You should've gone when I told you to, boy. You shouldn't have thrown that little girl like that, either. I guarded those children…"

"… and I still guard them."

Revealing his new set of incisors to me, the old man threw me to the ground again. The children gathered around me as the old man lowered his head and muttered something almost incomprehensible. Almost.

"I tried to warn you."

Assuming that you are still reading this little tale, you must have gathered that I survived my encounter with the children somehow. A natural conclusion. Well, I guess that I survived it.

If you can call my current state surviving or not, I don't know. The old man convinced the children not to finish me off. I was lucky that they listened to him. If you call never seeing another sunrise surviving, than that pretty much explains my current situation.

Maybe he left me like this so that someone could stop him and the children. I'll never know why, but I do know what has to happen now. I've got a second shot at warning people, and I won't fail this time.

They're out there now, both the children and their dedicated guardian. For some reason, he feels that he owes them. He feels that he has to watch over them still.

So, if you're ever out walking after dark and you see a small boy holding a teddy bear and crying, watch your step. Don't let his tears fool you, and don't let his pleas trick you. Beware of the girl too. She'll ask you for a piggyback, and her eyes will tear up and her arms will open wide for you to hold her.

Unless you're completely sure that the child is… well, just a child… ignore the urge to give in to his or her pleas.

And if you happen to see some handsome fifteen old chasing a group of kids and an elderly looking man, please find out more about the situation before you call the cops. It might be me. And I don't need the extra trouble.

Someone has to find them. Someone has to stop them, and before they end up sharing your child's teeter-totter one evening. Because they're out there now…

… and it's playtime.